April 1942 marked the beginning of the modern Hamden Fire Department.
New Haven Evening Register, Monday, April 13, 1942 (James Strain Collection, courtesy of the Hamden Historical Society)
From 1925, when the Hamden Fire Department was created under the statutes of the state of Connecticut, until 1942, the department was led entirely by volunteer officers. The fire chief and his three assistants were all volunteers. The firefighting personnel of each volunteer company were commanded by their duly elected line officers. The department's paid personnel, which consisted primarily of drivers, operated under the authority of those volunteer officers.
With the country on a war footing for the past four months, the Town of Hamden reorganized the fire department under full-time paid officers in April 1942. Examinations for the positions of fire chief and captain were administered to several veteran firefighters and the appointments, published on April 7, 1942, were based on the exam results.
Raymond C. Spencer, who had been one of the department's volunteer assistant fire chiefs since 1925, was high scorer of the chief's exam. Joseph Hromadka and Albert Purce scored highest on the captain's exam and both were appointed to that position. Runners-up Everett Doherty and Roland Ruwet were appointed lieutenants. Captains Hromadka and Purce each would command one of the department's two platoons. Both platoons consisted of a captain, lieutenant and nine firefighters.
Chief Spencer succeeded Charles Loller, who had been appointed the department's first chief in 1925. Chief Loller, a member of Highwood Company No. 1 since 1898, was also Hamden's Building Inspector. Spencer remained on the job until his retirement in 1960, when he was succeeded by V. Paul Leddy, who held the position for a record 23 years and five months.
Capt. Purce was named fire marshal in 1944. The position became a full-time staff job in 1948. Purce retired in 1968. Doherty was promoted to captain to fill Purce's vacancy in 1949. In 1954, he and the other two captains were elevated to the new position of battalion chief, which was later re-named deputy chief. Dep. Chief Doherty retired in 1966.
Like Doherty, Capt. Hromadka became a battalion chief in 1954 (later "deputy chief") and served until his 1972 retirement. Lieut. Ruwet was later assigned to training duties due to health issues, which took him off the line until his retirement in 1957.
The members of Hamden's eight volunteer fire companies remained the bulwark of the department until just after the end of World War II, when the number of career members more than doubled, from 23 in 1945 to 55 in 1950.
The Highwood volunteers disbanded in 1951, by which time the Humphrey, Whitneyville and Centerville companies, still active as social organizations, had become inactive in firefighting. Whitneyville had full use of the second floor of their former firehouse on Putnam Avenue until it was sold in 1970.
The Centerville volunteers' Sunday morning card games in the basement of Station 4 were over by the mid-1980s. The Humphrey Volunteer Hook & Ladder Association, whose charter had remained open after their building was given to the town in 1949, disbanded in 2015.
Newspaper accounts suggest that the Merritt Street Co. 6 volunteers were still active in the 1950s, just when Company 9 in West Woods was getting organized. However, both companies eventually disbanded, Company 6 in the early 1960s and Company 9 in 1988.
The Mt. Carmel (1911), Mix District (1924) and Dunbar Hill (1926) volunteer fire companies remain active.
The New Hamden Fire Department - 1942
1942 - Stations 2, 3 and 6 Personnel (CLICK to enlarge)
1942 - HQ and Station 5 Personnel (CLICK to enlarge)
Front Row: Daniel Hume, Joseph Marchitto, Frank Nolan - Middle Row: Clement Wetmore, Albert Molleur, Capt. Joseph Hromadka, Lieut. Everett Doherty, George Thatcher - Back Row: Stewart Keeler, James Strain, Arthur Norman
Front Row: Julius Norman, Clem Kammerer, Joseph Dukat, Walter Thomas - Middle Row: David Howe, Sr., Ralph Rosson - Back Row: Capt. Albert Purce, Emil Strain, Robert Reutenauer, Lieut. Roland Ruwet
Firefighters Ed Kromer and Paul Leddy are not pictured. Leddy, who joined the department on
November 4, 1941, was on department leave with the U.S. Navy when these photos were taken. He returned in 1946.
c. 1988 - Station 2 - L-R: Ff. Gary Couture, Lt. Dennis Baker, Ff. Jay Connolly, FF. Bill Davin, and Capt. Mike Ambriscoe. Ffs. Dick Carney and Tim O'Flynn are partially visible right behind Connolly and Ambriscoe. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Baker)